What do myths tell us about societies and their views on immortality? Most myths imply it’s unattainable or undesirable. Recently, I saw an article on Listverse called 10 mythological ways to become immortal. I decided to analyze it. I was not completely surprised that seven of the ten ways to become immortal are to eat or drink something.
- Eat a mermaid- Japan- a girl is cursed with immortality after accidentally eating a mermaid. (It looked like fish, okay.) The gods took pity on her and eventually allowed her to die.
- Taunt Jesus- Refers to the story of the “Wandering Jew,” a man cursed with immortality because he bullied Christ on the way to the crucifixion.
- Anger a God- examples abound in Greek mythology, think Sisyphis and Tantalis, immortality is definitely a curse for them.
- Eat Cinnabar- The elixir of choice for Chinese emperors seeking immortality. The irony? Cinnabar is the ore for mercury and the elixir poisoned those who took it.
- Eat the unknown plant from the Gilgamesh epic- The one that Gilgamesh found and then lost.
- Eat the Peaches of Immortality- The Chinese gods eat them to remain immortal. The orchard is guarded by the Monkey King and the owners of the orchard only share them with the gods.
- Drink Amrita- The Hindu elixir that makes the gods immortal. It was hidden by the gods and only traces are available to Yoga masters.
- Eat the Norse Golden Apples- They keep the Norse gods immortal. They are guarded by Idun, Goddess of Spring.
- Drink Ambrosia- Greek gods drink it to stay immortal, curse those who try to steal it, sometimes give it away to the worthy.
- The holy grail- It seems most legends specify that you just posess it to gain immortality, not drink from it.
Why all this eating/drinking? Is it just the list maker’s bias?
Is eating something that is difficult/impossible to find a better metaphor for immortality? As opposed to seeking and keeping an object?
Are there other ways people in myth have gained immortality? Or something like it? Seigfried bathed in dragon’s blood and Achilles was dipped in the River Styx so they could not be killed in battle, but is that the kind of immortality we’re talking about here?
Where do vampires fit?
All the eating and drinking myths above, other than those associated with cinnabar, imply someone can become immortal only through food and drink with supernatural powers.
Most of the myths I can think of do not consider everyday objects sources of immortality. But will immortality pills or diets that are accessible to most become common one day?
Let me know if you think of other myths that defy my analysis. I’ll post about it further if I think of any.
Ten Mythological Ways To Become Immortal